Handlooms need a solid push

Pavithra’s museum is among the few institutions struggling to keep alive handloom fabrics
Last Updated : 06 August 2019, 15:43 IST
Last Updated : 06 August 2019, 15:43 IST
Last Updated : 06 August 2019, 15:43 IST
Last Updated : 06 August 2019, 15:43 IST

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In an attempt to promote the Indian handloom industry and honour weavers across the country, the Union Government is observing August 7 as National Handloom Day since 2015.

But it is not just the government; some individuals are also doing their bit to preserve the country’s heritage textiles for the future generation.

Pavithra Muddaya and her mother, late Chimmy Nanjappa, are a good example. They established Vimor in 1974, a brand that has been reviewing, designing and selling South Indian handloom saris for the past 45 years.

Pavithra has now launched Vimor Museum of Living Textiles that has extensive documentation of motifs, techniques and designs that have been forgotten. This initiative helps create employment in the handloom sector and aims to spread knowledge about India’s handloom heritage among the public.

Pavithra works with over 2,000 weavers, guiding and mentoring them to create weaves that are close to the now-lost originals.

She cites Karnataka as a state that has lost many of its textile. “I try to re-construct the textile from the memories of senior citizens. They are our knowledge bank. My focus is to record all these stories as we are the last generation that can do so.”

She adds, “My work is also about instilling pride in the weavers; it is about respecting the makers.”

The demand for handloom products are more than the supply but there are no weavers as they have moved to mainstream, and more lucrative professions, she says.

This is also a reason why weavers are reluctant to pass on their skill to their children. They feel there is no future in the industry.

Long-time ago, Bengaluru had a huge market for handlooms, especially in the Cubbonpet area, but when the power looms took over, the practice of wearing handlooms faded away.

“Karnataka had some of the most talented weavers, who were sent all around the country to train others in the industry. They had organised societies in areas like Chickpet but moved to areas like Doddbalapur, Kengeri and Yelahanka after the power looms came. They are still there but in small numbers,” she points out.

At a time when the country’s textile culture is vanishing, Pavithra feels that we should know what we had and have lost. For this awareness should start in schools.

“Learning about it should be a part of the curriculum. Exposing children to handloom is a great tool to reclaim our culture,” she notes.

Are youngsters today unaware about the glory of handloom?

K Radharaman of The House of Angadi says the awareness quotient about handloom has come down.

“Earlier, shopping was typically a family expedition. So an understanding of handlooms (as well as other things like jewellery) was passed down through generations during these shopping trips. The end of such a norm has contributed to the decline in knowledge,” he says.

He cites another reason as the lack of popularity of handlooms as compared to big brands. The fact that handloom products are not placed in malls or high-street destinations adds to this.

“Handloom products are made in remote parts of the country, villages and rural areas so people can’t identify with the making process. So it’s an abstract concept for them. And since practitioners don’t actively promote the product, many misconceptions abound,” he explains.

What are some of these misconceptions that exists among the consumers?

“Many consumers feel it is difficult to wear or maintain handlooms, some associate it with a particular garment, like the sari and they feel it can be worn only by people of a certain age. Another thought that people have is that it is not user-friendly. But women in rural India have been wearing this fabric for ages; they even work wearing it. So I feel it is a baseless thought that has entered people’s heads,” observes Radharaman.

How can we make the common man more knowledgeable about our heritage textiles?

The media can help in this regard of course. Also, we need to ensure that only true and clear information is being put out there. It is sad that people here have knowledge about things happening thousands of miles away but are not aware of sectors and people engaged in them in India. We should also take care that when we spread a message about handloom, it doesn’t come across as too preachy as that will only alienate the younger audience. So we shouldn’t tell them to buy handloom to save farmers, we should tell them the fabric (and its bight colours) is a celebration of their individuality.

Most of Radharaman’s work has been in the realm of contemporising traditional textile. Innovating and reinventing something that has been around for a long time and presenting it in a new context, is what he specialise in.

“I introduced linen and khadi in kanjeevaram saris. We have also reintroduced the Jamdani on cotton muslin. Initially, people believed that it has to look a certain way or have certain motifs
but that has never held me back. I just feel one shouldn’t dilute the essence of it,” he explains.

Saris and handloom

Pavithra says that handloom doesn’t just mean saris. “We are associated with designers like Prasad Bidapa who produce ready-to-wear handloom garments. The fabric has endless possibilities. The younger generation too is doing a good job, they have the courage to experiment,” she says.

Designer Neeta Rajendran, Sakhi Fashions, however feels that youngsters should embrace this textile as a sari, instead of looking for fashionable clothes.

“A sari can be worn in many ways. If it is a handloom product, made by local artisan communities, there are no synthetics used. The handloom will feel light and comfortable, making it a good option for youngsters.”

Neeta and her team works with weavers from Inkal district, Huballi, Banaras, Kanchipuram and Chattisgarh

She rues the fact that only a handful of people understand the value of handloom and are ready to pay the price of original work.

Neeta believes that if a celebrity endorses these products, the awareness could be much higher.

Published 06 August 2019, 14:33 IST

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